Charter schools more hype than hope for Māori

Key points Minister of Education Hekia Parata is known to be a keen advocate of charter schools being run by Māori education providers. But many in Māoridom are not so…

Key points

Minister of Education Hekia Parata is known to be a keen advocate of charter schools being run by Māori education providers. But many in Māoridom are not so sure. The evidence is thin that charter schools will lift Māori achievement levels, while the highly successful Te Kotahitanga programme is being cut back.

Charter schools are not the way forward for the development of education for Māori, says Professor Wally Penetito, of Te Kura Māori at the Faculty of Education, Victoria University. “I don’t think that’s the way to go for Māori. I want to see the development of kohanga and kura kaupapa, of the kaupapa Māori movement.”
While many whanau struggle with more urgent issues such as poverty, housing, health and employment, the issue of charter schools is creating further division and confusion amongst Māori, and even within the kaupapa Māori education sector. Professor Penetito was one of several leading Māori educationalists and leaders who signed an Open Letter to the Government opposing charter schools (officially called partnership schools) in late May. Others who publicly oppose the policy include Professor Russell Bishop, Dr Leonie Pihama, Dr Mera Penehira, Cindy Kiro, Ani Mikaere, Metiria Turei and Lesley Rameka.

Political opposition

Both the Labour and Green party candidates in the recent Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election (Meka Whaitiri and Marama Davidson respectively) were clear in their opposition at a meeting in Taita. Mana MP Hone Harawira spoke passionately against the charter school bill in Parliament in May.
Māori members of the primary and secondary teachers unions NZEI Te Riu Roa and PPTA are firm in their opposition, as both unions believe the policy has the potential to under-mine the public education sector. About 85 percent of Māori children attend mainstream schools, with varying levels of Māori language used, and 15 percent attend Māori immersion kura and wharekura.

Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu outlined its strong opposition to the schools in a lengthy, well-researched submission to government. It is the only iwi known to have publicly opposed them. The new schools are being promoted by the government (National, Act, and the Māori Party supported the charter schools Bill) as a means of tackling Māori and Pacific under-achievement but the results of overseas research relating to minorities in charter schools are inconclusive and benefits to Māori are likely to be minimal. Despite that, of the 35 or so applicants wanting to establish charter schools, about a third of those are from Māori.

[g1_quote author_name=”Toby Manhire” author_description=”in The New Zealand Herald” author_description_format=”%link%” align=”right” size=”s” style=”solid” template=”01″]

Partnership schools: as innovative and transparent as the new Anchor milk bottle



Leaders of kura-a-iwi, designated character schools (section 156 of the Education Act 1989) associated with particular iwi, see charter schools as a way to gain more freedom from centralised bureaucracy.
Dr Toby Curtis, head of Te Maru o Nga Kura a Iwi o Aotearoa (Iwi Education Authority) and Pem Bird (representing kaiako at these kura) say they represent 23 of 25 kura-a-iwi in supporting charter schools. Iwi in support include Tuwharetoa, Tuhoe, Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Manawa, Ngati Rongomai, Tapuika, Waikato and Raukawa ki te Tonga.

Those in favour of charter schools often use the argument that the public education system is failing Māori children: “Too many schools are allowed to continue failing Māori children, without accountability for that failure,” said Pem Bird. “Kura Hourua can be a circuit-breaker for us, an agent of desperately needed change.”

The gap is closing

But while there is still a gap between Māori and Pakeha achievement levels, policies such as Ka Hikitia, Te Kotahitanga and He Kakano have been achieving success in closing that gap in recent years. Level 2 NCEA is seen by the government as the benchmark opening the gateway to tertiary education and NZQA’s latest annual report (2012), shows the percentage of Māori year 12 students who passed NCEA Level 2 rose from 63 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2012 (an increase of 19 percent). New Zealand European pass rates increased from 82 percent to 89 percent over the same period (an 8 percent increase).

The percentage of school leavers qualified to attend university is now higher for those leaving Māori immersion kura and bilingual schools (51.5% in 2010) than it is for non-Māori leaving English medium schools (50.1%). And yet tragically, the government has axed Te Kotahitanga funding, a programme succeeding in 50 schools, and which the teachers’ unions wanted to see expand, and replaced it with a weaker version not well supported by research and less likely to gain results.
While the kura-a-iwi organisation (above), and the Iwi Education Authority are in favour of trialling charter schools, the runanga which represents Kura Kaupapa under Section 155 of the Education Act, with a philosophy called Te Aho Matua, is more neutral on the issue.

Use the current system

Te Runanga Nui o Nga Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa (TRN) has not officially submitted its views to the government, but chair Rawiri Wright has done so individually and says that the runanga has since agreed with his statement. There were 72 kura kaupapa Māori throughout the country under this section in 2011, many of them in low decile urban areas. “Almost all of the provisions under consideration for charter schools /kura hourua are those that have been …called for by TRN …almost since their inception (now 28 years ago),” the submission reads.

However, these freedoms are sought within the publicly funded system, without the need for partnerships with sponsors. “(They) should be made available to KKM as of right but without the need to seek a third party sponsor (but be able to should a kura so determine) and with assured 100 percent state funding.”


Associate Minister of Education Minister Pita Sharples apparently interpreted this as support from TRN” when spoken to by EA, he claimed that kura kaupapa Māori, kura-a-Iwi, and the Kohanga Reo Trust all supported idea of the new schools. “Bulk funding appeals to them, and the idea of being able to design things their own way, in Te Reo,” he said.
Although Dr Sharples states that he remains committed to kura kaupapa, of which he is a founder, Māori academic and commentator Rawiri Taonui warns that the privileging of mana whenua kura-a-iwi could lead to further disadvantage for urban Māori away from their tribal rohe.

Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, while supporting the right of iwi to provide education their own way, does not believe that charter schools will work for Māori. “A more realistic approach would be to utilise the existing mechanism of Special Character Schools, with greater controls and transparency in operation, rather than to create another category of school,” says Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu in its submission.

Te Kotahitanga

Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, which represents 18 runanga throughout Te Wai Pounamu/the South Island, urged the government to make it compulsory for all schools to implement Te Kotahitanga and He Kakano , “which are making real and successful advancements in support of Māori educational achievement”.

It also pushed for charter schools to operate consistently with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. “The Partnership Schools (should) be required to adhere to the New Zealand curriculum, or at the very least to … provide access to te reo me ōna tikanga.” Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu also called for greater transparency around funding and information access.
Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu is actively involved in education in providing grants and scholarships for tertiary study and also tutorial services for school students. It is understood that a recent venture into early childhood education by Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu in partnership with a tertiary provider was ended for financial reasons.

New funding?

NZEI Te Riu Roa believes the charter schools policy will further widen the gap between the rich and poor. The government currently spends about $45 million each year subsidizing elite private schools (for example, Kings College attended by John Key’s son), and is considering more, but where is the new funding for Māori in mainstream, Māori immersion pre-schools and kura kaupapa?
Labour’s policy, if it becomes government, is to repeal the charter school legislation, review all existing charter schools, close those that are not working, and re-integrate any successful ones back into the public education system with the usual regulatory requirements. The Greens and Mana think similarly.

Otautahi-Christchurch restructuring means less choice
Mainstream schools are still the schools of choice for the parents of most tamariki, and yet there will soon be less choice in Christchurch, particularly for those living in the eastern suburbs.
Plans to merge schools have upset whanau who are concerned that the social dynamics of the new super-schools have been poorly considered; that whanau involvement and social support will diminish; and the provision of bilingual education will be weakened.
Fears of bullying and gang tensions have been noted in relation to the proposed super-school on the Aranui High School site (children whose parents belonged to different gangs went to different schools), which the government wants to consider as a public-private partnership school (at least for its buildings).

Community needs not met

Aranui, Wainoni and Avondale primary schools are all to close at the end of December 2016, to allow for “considerations of public-private partnership procurement (PPP)” for the newly merged Year 1-13 school on the Aranui High School site. Aranui High School principal John Rohs said a public-private partnership would detract from a community approach. “We are opposed to this. The needs of our community are not conducive to the public-private partnership.”
Māori students make up 25% of the roll at Avondale Primary School and parents are upset that closure of the school will reduce their options. With little earthquake damage, a roll of about 330, and a team of committed staff, the school has been seen as a stepping stone to a range of secondary schools across town. “Only about 18-20 percent of our students go on to the local high school,” says principal Mark Scown.

Challenges to bilingual education

The provision of bilingual education will also be affected by restructuring in the city. Phillipstown School (decile 1, roll 163) is to merge with Woolston School (decile 2, roll 300). Woolston has a bilingual unit called Te Whanau Puawai o Ngakaunui, consisting of three classes (years 1-8) and is likely to face challenges adjusting to the merger. Two intermediates which are to close” Branston Intermediate in Hornby and Linwood Intermediate” are both known for their strong provision of te reo.
Staff and whanau of the two kura kaupapa Māori in the city are meanwhile breathing easier after escaping a recent threat of relocation. With strong opposition from both kura communities to a move, and a lack of evidence of demand in the northern suburbs, the government decided to back-track. “Thanks to the whanau that have supported our right to stay at our papakainga,” says kaumatua for Te Kura Whakapumau i te reo tuturu o Waitaha, Ruawhitu Pokaia. The kura is a composite year 1-15 school, which has been on its Waltham (south-east) site for 26 years.

Strong kura

Similarly for Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Whanau Tahi in Spreydon (south-west), on its site for 13 years, and also a composite year 1-15 kura: “This is their marae, their turangawaewae,” says Ramon Roberts, acting principal. While both kura have roll sizes of about 80, which had dropped when families left the city after the earthquakes, neither have suffered much earthquake damage and their rolls are now recovering.
The kura have strong whanau support, and hence provide whanau with networking and resilience. Some of the means of enhancing student achievement at the two kura include: one-to-one English language tutoring; video-teaching in putaiao (science) and pangarau (maths); senior students attending local high schools for certain classes; and enrolling senior students in programmes from Te Wananga o Raukawa in their final years (with support from STAR – the Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource).
“They have to make a commitment. We didn’t want to give a hand-out, but a hand-up. That’s the best we can do,” said Ruawhitu. The kura hopes that one of its students will graduate with a degree before she finishes at the kura next year. “It’s all success-based. This could be the door opening for a lot of them,” he said.